Archive for the ‘Acts 10:34-48’ Category

Love One Another… or Else!

Sunday, May 17th, 2009

Pastor Brian Henderson, Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego, CA
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“These things I command you, so that you will love one another.” [Jn. 15:9-17]

INTRODUCTION: These Words of Jesus may be hard Words for some here this morning.  In fact, you may find it easier to relate to this little ditty: “To live above with saints we love, that will be joy and glory; to live below with saints we know, now that’s a different story.” Sometimes, people can just be hard… no, they can be impossible to love.  And yet, that is exactly what we are commanded to do—love one another. 

I. If our gospel lesson is the first of a one-two punch, then the epistle gives us the knock-out blow.  Listen: “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.” [1 Jn. 5:3]  That’s God’s love?  Keep His commandments?  OK.  Do you think you can do it? Before you answer, let me put a little light on the challenge.  Luther sums up the fulfillment of the first three commandments this way: “We are to fear, love, and trust God above all things.”  And in regards to our neighbor, Jesus says that we should love our neighbor as we love our selves.”  Friends, within these Words we find the terrifying hammer of God; a hammer that smashes all of our “good deeds” along with our sinful behavior into an eternity of suffering, our suffering which can be the only payment for our sins.

In God’s commandments He demands far more from us than just doing our best or living a life that this world might judge as good and decent.  He demands perfection, which is something we all fall short of, and God’s Word makes sure that we know this, (for) it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” [Romans 3:10-12]We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” [Isaiah 64:6]  Now do you understand how hopelessly lost we are if we think we can keep God’s commandments?

II. In our reading this morning from the Book of Acts, we join up with Peter and his companions who were directed by God to look for a Roman citizen in Caesarea named Cornelius.  He was a man who we would call a seeker of the true religion…he wanted peace with God.  He was studying the Jewish religion, with a desire to know the true God.  In a dream, he was told that Peter would come to him and help him discover this very thing.  Now Peter also had a dream, and within his dream God told him three times to kill and eat unclean animals, and each time Peter argued with God and said that he would not eat food that was unclean.  But God put an end to Peter’s protests by declaring  that he should not declare unclean what God had declared clean.  Now while Peter was trying to make sense of this dream, a servant of Cornelius arrived at the home where Peter was staying and asked Peter to come and speak to his master.  Now under normal circumstances, a devout Jew like Peter would never enter the home of an unclean gentile.  But these were not normal circumstances and Peter was not about to argue with God again over what is clean and unclean.  So off Peter went, because he wanted to do the right thing…He wanted to go where God was sending him.  You see, even Peter had trouble obeying God.  Even Peter on his own could not do good.

Something that has become clear in our message so far this morning is that doing good is not the simple matter that many people like to make it. Let’s look at Cornelius! If his honest convictions to live a good life were all he needed to please God, then why was he seeking the true religion? If the Jewish religion had been enough, why was Peter sent to his home? No, God had made it clear to Cornelius that simply following a few moral rules of life apart from knowing the true God was a hopeless tragedy.  God was about to make it clear to Cornelius that He had to know the true God, He had to know Jesus, the Redeemer in order to find peace.

So that was Peter’s task to preach peace with God…he must preach the gospel.  Peter was to be the mouth of God.  He was to preach the good news.  The preacher is to preach only what he is ordered, no more, no less, and without alteration. And this remains the preacher’s task to this day.  Pastors are never allowed to preach their own ideas. Only one message has the Lord’s approval. Any change to that message, any substitution for it, is not only empty but, when it pretends to be the Lord’s true message, it makes the preacher who proclaims it a liar, a false prophet.  What is that message?  It is Law and Gospel.  First, in regards to the law, Peter declared that Jesus has been appointed to be the judge of the world.  All men, women, and children, living and dead will be judge.  They must stand before a perfect judge and be perfect themselves.  But this is only half of the message, for you see according to God’s love Jesus is also the savior of all those who now stand before God as being unclean and worthless.  Just as it was Peter’s privilege to declare the gospel to Cornelius, it is my privilege today to announce to you “that everyone who believes in Jesus receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” [Acts 10:43] Every one of you that believes that Jesus suffered and died for you, and every one of you that believes that He is YOUR Savior and your God, are forgiven and you like Cornelius truly have peace with God!  Without the name of Jesus, there can be no forgiveness of sins… there can be no peace with God, but through faith in his name, your heart is able to cling to Jesus and rely upon Him in life and in death.

Dear friends, it is the gospel that has brought you to God through Jesus who is your saving and loving Lord. His “gospel of peace” [Eph. 6:15], now rules your heart in a way that allows you to really enjoy the fullness of this peace. And it is the gospel that will carry you through for the rest of your days, moving you to trust in God’s kind heart.  Now we see that apart from Jesus and His name, there is indeed no one righteous, not even one, but by faith in the name of Jesus, through faith in God’s saving gospel, a miracle has happened in your heart… a sinner is made righteous.  Because of your faith in the gospel God declares you to be pleasing to Him, and because you please Him, He moves your heart to sorrowfully confess your sins and then turn to Him through Jesus for forgiveness.  Friends, we are pleasing to God and saved from our sins because we believe and accept His forgiveness through Christ.  And every day God miraculously renews our faith, over and over again!  And this is guaranteed to us as long as we abide in the love of Christ.  And how do we abide in His love?  By keeping His commandments! [Jn. 15:9-10] Will you fall short?  Yes!  But when you do you have friend in God who sees the sorrow in your heart, hears your confession, and forgives you because you have faith in the name of Jesus! 

III. Friends, God is looking for your love.  Love for Him and love for your neighbor.  It isn’t easy; in fact Jesus calls it the narrow or the hard way.  Maybe God will test you as He tested Peter.  Maybe right now God is asking you to love someone that is different from you; someone who makes you uncomfortable because of their race, color, creed, or social behavior.  Maybe He is asking you to forgive and love someone who has hurt you deeply.  If so, remember that He has said that we must not declare unclean what He has declared to be clean.  Remember that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” [John 3:16] 

Listen friend, God knows it’s hard for us to love the unlovable… and yet He loves us and He calls us to walk with Him by faith.  Today, He wants you to confess your lack of love for Him and your neighbor and then to simply trust that because of your faith in Jesus God loves and forgives you.  But He won’t let it end right there, because you see,   He wants to change you.  He wants you to ask Him to change your heart and then let Him lead and guide you where He wants you to go, and to love who He wants you to love, just as He led Peter.  You see, this is love…that we keep His commandments.  It’s our love for Him demonstrated as we let Him change our hearts, and its His love for us when we turn to Him for forgiveness when we fail.  He forgives us and says ok, let’s try it again.  Follow me!  Maybe He will lead you right to the person or persons you can’t seem to love; if He does, it will be alright, because He will be with you and He will be working through you.  What work will He be doing?  Why He’ll be calling more sinners just like you into a saving relationship with Him—people who will receive forgiveness of sins because they too believe in the name of Jesus Christ.  This is how God’s church grows, and this is how we become more and more dependent on His love and forgiveness in our lives.  This is how we become people who love our neighbor, by letting God seek the lost through us.  When we do this as individuals we become more like Jesus.  When we do this as a congregation, we become a healthy church.  And a healthy church is a missionary church whose whole purpose is to impart the love of God and the joy of salvation to as many people as possible.  May God help us to do this through the name of Jesus Christ…AMEN!